Welcome to Expositing Ephesians

THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED to one of the chief passions of my life and ministry, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. I believe this epistle is at the very core of the Christian life. I spent years in the study of it and then three and one half years expositing it from my pulpit. I hope this blog will be a blessing to you as I share that exposition. I also hope you will tell others about this blog. Please check for new posts each Monday .

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Man’s View of “Self” (1)

As we've noted before, the word “saint” is not used in the Bible for some special elite group but refers to every Christian. In light of that, the Apostle Paul says something staggering in Ephesians 3:8: Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. Here is a man of unequaled humility, the very opposite or the “selfism” of our day. Paul’s view of “self” was the very opposite of the world’s view, and until Christians realize that and reject the nonsense of today’s “selfism,” we will never have a pure Church that is committed to service and true ministry. How can any of us ever be servants when we hold to a high “self-worth,” which is one of the catchwords of our day?

There is within Christianity a philosophy that is working like a cancer. This philosophy is known by many titles and descriptions: self‑esteem, self‑image, self‑worth, self‑acceptance, self‑awareness, self-improvement, self‑help, and, to cut to the heart of the matter, “secular psychology.” We need to take a moment to show that the basic underlying philosophy of this is, without question, diametrically opposed to Scripture.

Christianity today has become utterly fascinated, captivated, and motivated by the term “self‑esteem.” This term has become a by‑word in Christian circles. Sermons and whole seminars are devoted to it and its application; Christian leaders are teaching it as though it were Biblical doctrine. As we’ll see, the terms “self” and “pride” are NEVER, not one single time, used in Scripture in a positive way. Never, not in a single instance, are we encouraged to glorify self, to elevate self. May I say it one more time, not even one Scripture warrants this popular teaching.

In spite of that Biblical fact, one of the foremost Christian leaders of our day, who majors on the family, abandons that truth by writing: “In a real sense, the health of an entire society depends on the ease with which the individual members gain personal acceptance. Thus, whenever the keys to self‑esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth century America, then wide‑spread “mental‑illness,” neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur.

In other words, low self‑esteem (i.e. thinking lowly of one’s self) is at the root of all the problems of society. But one flaw in this theory is that other psychologists say that the problems in society are caused by other factors. So, this just leaves this man’s statement as one of the many psychological theories of the day.

Even more basic and serious is another flaw, namely, that it’s blatantly contrary to Scripture. All the problems he lists come not as a result of low self-esteem, but because of man’s rebellion against God. The “catalog of sin” in Romans 1:20-32 could not be clearer. As verse 21 declares, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Paul later lists sin after sin that results from man’s rebellion.

What then do the Scriptures say about “self?” In 2 Timothy 3:1‑5 we find Paul’s vivid description of the apostate days prior to Jesus’ return. The very first thing that Paul says of apostate mankind is that man will be “LOVERS OF THEIR OWN SELVES.” Man’s natural inclination is to love himself, but the attitude that the Word of God says to have for self is to deny it, as does Mark 8:34: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” God doesn't tell us to revel in it or build it up; rather He says to deny it. “Self” is our greatest problem.

Moreover, the only men God ever used were humble servants. He didn't use a “self‑assertive” Moses, but a humble Moses. Uniquely, while God called a self‑assertive Peter, He didn't use Peter until the Lord Jesus humbled him in John 21.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Anecdote on Church Ministry

Please forgive me, but I am interrupting our exposition for a single post. We will pick it up next time by turning to Ephesians 3:8. I am just compelled to share a burden with you.

Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones pastored Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968, first as the associate under the great G. Campbell Morgan until Morgan’s retirement in 1943, and then as the sole pastor. His ministry was one of expository preaching—he spent, for example, five years expositing the book of Ephesians. Many view him, in fact, as the greatest expositor of the 20th–century. He has had an enormous influence on my own life and ministry.

While recently reading volume 2 of Ian Murray's monumental biography of Lloyd-Jones, I came upon an incident early in his tenure at Westminster that caught my attention. Though the incident occurred in 1944 (please remember that), it could have happened in 2012. I hope you will consider it and ponder its implications.

During a Friday night Bible Study and discussion group, the problem of how to increase church attendance arose. There were several who doubted that the “plain services now established, with 45-minute sermons and not even an organ voluntary, would ever bring back the numbers which once crowded the building” prior to the war. Suggestions included (remember, this is 1944): “more music, livelier music, special musical numbers, shorter sermons, sermons not so deep, more variety in the services,” and so forth.

While one dear lady, Mary-Carson Kuschke, was deeply burdened by all this and so felt compelled to raise her hand and interject that she felt that no changes whatsoever were needed to keep her coming, she was nonetheless a lone voice in a sea of modern (and if I may be so bold, fleshly) thinking.

It was at this point that Lloyd-Jones “smilingly thanked [her] for the first kind words [he’d] heard [that] evening!” He then rose and asked the group what they would say if he told them he knew a way to ensure that every seat in the Chapel would be filled on the following Lord’s Day. He confidently assured them, in fact, that he knew exactly how this could be accomplished. “Tell us, tell us,” they said, “Let’s do it.” He replied, “It’s very simple. Simply put a notice in the Saturday edition of The Times that I shall appear in the pulpit the next day wearing a bathing costume!” This was followed, of course, by shocked silence. (I guess the accepted substitute today is faded jeans and a tee shirt, but alas, few are shocked.)

Lloyd-Jones then went on to expound the biblical basis for proper worship, illustrating with the clear error, which was just beginning to be prevalent in his day, of bringing into the church various forms of entertainment as a means of enticing people to come. (Ian Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939–1981 [Banner of Truth Trust, 1990], 111–112).

Now, what was the year again?—1944. And where are we today? Where in Scripture does it say that the church is designed for the "unchurched"? Where does it say we should entertain people to “get them in the door”? Where does it say to “give people what they want” so they will keep coming? I shall not forget the statement I heard one pastor make some 35 years ago; so tainted by the world had he become that he actually said from the pulpit: “Even Jesus gave away fish sandwiches to draw a crowd.”

Thankfully, I have also not forgotten what a true man of God told me around the same time period: “You will keep people with what you get them with. If you get them with what is new, novel, and innovative, you will have to continue being innovative to keep them. But if you get them with the Word of God, you will keep them with that because it never changes.”

One of the clearest, most unambiguous principles in Scripture is that the core of church ministry must be the preaching and teaching of God’s Word (not music, which is by far the major emphasis today). The late J. Sidlow Baxter said it well: “Preaching . . . is the gravity center of the Christian pastorate” (Rethinking Our Priorities, [Zondervan, 1974], 245). While everything under the sun is being used today to replace the pulpit ministry, it is the pulpit that is to be the focal point in the church. Just as John Calvin replaced all the altars in the churches with pulpits, and just as Lloyd-Jones had the pulpit bolted to the floor at Westminster, we should likewise make that the heart and hub of our churches today.

Among many biblical examples we could note, the very last letter the Apostle Paul wrote was to a pastor, and what was the last thing he told that pastor to do? Entertain the people? Be “culturally relevant”? “Appeal to seekers”? Indeed, not. He told him to, “Preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). What is true preaching? Preaching is the exposition (i.e., detailed explanation) and application of God’s Word from the preacher to the people.

I sincerely pray that the pulpit is the focal point in your church. 

I also pray that you consider forwarding this post on to others.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Does God Allow His People To Suffer? (4)

Considering that age-old question once again, we take one last look at Job, who illustrates the three reasons for physical infirmity and personal hardship found in II Corinthians 12:7‑10.First, his trials kept him humble, and second, they made him submit to God’s will.

Third, Job’s trials made him dependent on God. May we point out here that Job was not perfect throughout his suffer­ings; he had a few self‑righteous and prideful attitudes. In 42:1‑6, we see Job repent of those and show his complete giving over to God and dependence on His sovereignty: Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

“I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes?” That’s certainly not the common teaching today? No, the teaching today is to glorify self, to “pray the prayer of blessing.” Theologian Charles Ryrie comments on this passage and summarizes the entire book in his Study Bible: “This is the great lesson of the book: If we know God, we do not need to know why He allows us to experience what we do. He is not only in control of the universe and all its facets but also of our lives, and He loves us. Though His ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension, we should not criticize Him for His dealings with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”

Oh, how wonderful it is to know that God is sovereign! Paul knew this glorious fact. Like Paul, may we rejoice in the trials that come our way.

Former pastor and author Warren Wiersbe recounts the day that a distraught man said to him during a counseling session, “I’ve found the Bible verse that describes my life perfectly.” Turning to Job 5:7, he handed the Bible to Wiersbe and said “Here—read this!” Wiersbe read the verse out loud: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” The man lamented, “I was born in trouble, I live in trouble, and I’ll probably die in trouble. There’s always a new bunch of sparks, and they’re burning me something awful.” In what Wiersbe considered a flash of Divine guidance, he handed the Bible back to the man and said, “There’s another verse that goes along with Job 5:7. It’s I Peter 5:7—read it!” The man did: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” He was silent for a moment, but then said without even looking up, “Yea, but how do I know that God really cares for me.”

What’s the answer to that man’s question? How do we know God really cares? Because He says so. Paul was not lamenting or feeling sorry for himself when he wrote, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1). He’d already learned the lesson that God loved him and cared enough for him to use Him for great things.

The story is told of a very busy and widely traveled Christian worker who suddenly found himself flat on his back in bed. Frustrated by his forced idleness and tempted to self-pity, he opened his Bible and found himself reading a familiar passage, Psalm 23. As he read the well-known words, “He maketh me to lie down,” it seemed that the Holy Spirit put a period right there. The man didn’t have to go any further, for that was truth he needed. Ultimately, it was not illness that laid him down, rather it was God. God wanted to speak to his servant in such a way that he was too busy to hear in any other way.

Likewise, Paul was certainly a busy man: traveling, preaching, founding churches, and writing letters. We must wonder if this letter to the Ephesians, as well as the other Prison Epistles, would have ever been written if God hadn’t made the time for Paul to do so. He was the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles, that is, on their behalf, for their advantage, and what an advantage his Prison Epistles are!

May we ever trust in the sovereignty of God. Why? Because it is for our utmost good and His ultimate glory.